Unrequired Reading {25.1.09}

January 25, 2009

Unrequired Reading

These are some of the things that have caught my atten­tion lately. It’s a more eclect­ic mix than just the news busi­ness, but then so’s life:

  • When No News Is Bad News | James War­ren — So much pub­lic inform­a­tion and offi­cial gov­ern­ment know­ledge depends on a private busi­ness mod­el that is now fail­ing. Journ­al­ism acknow­ledges and illu­min­ates com­plex­ity, and at the same time pri­or­it­izes, help­ing us to eval­u­ate the rel­at­ive sig­ni­fic­ance of devel­op­ments play­ing out all around us. A very shrewd journ­al­ist-entre­pren­eur I know, Steve Brill, asks that one just ima­gine walk­ing into a lib­rary and see­ing the pages of all the books scattered on the floors and stair­wells. To be sure, edit­ors are human and sub­jectiv­ity plays a role, but a news­pa­per places those pages—and thus the news—in some sens­ible order.

    And, import­antly, there’s a sense of social mis­sion. Good journ­al­ism keeps pub­lic and private offi­cials hon­est and helps cit­izens make thought­ful decisions. It does this by sys­tem­at­ic­ally gath­er­ing, pro­cessing, and check­ing rel­ev­ant inform­a­tion, and by doing it with a spir­it of inde­pend­ence.

  • Media acquis­i­tion, the French way | Monday Note — Nic­olas Sarkozy made the fol­low­ing cal­cu­la­tion. $200m per year to please the news­pa­per bar­ons is small change com­pared to €21bn to save the French bank­ing sys­tem or €6bn for the car industry. In nor­mal times, fisc­al respons­ib­il­ity would not allow such prof­ligacy (espe­cially with­in the con­strain­ing EU guidelines). Today, $200m is noth­ing com­pared to the upside: the French media groups are sat­is­fied and relieved. Tax-breaks will have almost imme­di­ate effects on bal­ance sheets and there is no doubt that all fin­an­cial locks are thrown open: Fri­day after Sarkozy’speech, a gov­ern­ment offi­cial told me some news out­lets were, as usu­al, already nego­ti­at­ing sub­sidies pay­ments in advance. He was impli­citly con­firm­ing that one paper was even ask­ing for a two-year upfront pay­ment from the gov­ern­ment!
  • Obama Should Address CIA Assas­sin­a­tions | intelNews.org — A coun­try that wishes to claim its “place among nations that respect the rule of law and human dig­nity” does not have the lux­ury of being select­ive in imple­ment­ing the rule of law to which it aspires. Moreover, we, the cit­izens of the United States, in whose name the gov­ern­ment in Wash­ing­ton is fight­ing the “war on ter­ror”, deserve the right to exam­ine the evid­ence inform­ing the decision-mak­ing behind CIA’s assas­sin­a­tion policy. We should not be sat­is­fied with vague spec­u­la­tions that “a high-value tar­get may be among the dead”, as one unnamed “Pakistani secur­ity offi­cial” said in ref­er­ence to Friday’s mis­sile attacks.

    At least 132 people are said to have died in 38 CIA mis­sile strikes in Pakistan dur­ing the last few months. No evid­ence has so far been presen­ted to jus­ti­fy these killings. What is more, we have no offi­cial proof of any attempts to arrest, extra­dite, inter­rog­ate, try and pun­ish these indi­vidu­als in accord­ance with US leg­al stand­ards.

  • Al-Jaz­eera drew US view­ers on Web dur­ing Gaza war | The Asso­ci­ated Press — Amer­ic­an view­er­ship of Al-Jaz­eera Eng­lish rose dra­mat­ic­ally dur­ing the Israel-Hamas war, partly because the chan­nel had what CNN and oth­er inter­na­tion­al net­works didn’t have: report­ers inside Gaza.
    But the view­ers weren’t watch­ing it on tele­vi­sion, where the Arab network’s Eng­lish-lan­guage sta­tion has almost no U.S. pres­ence.
    Instead, the sta­tion streamed video of Israel’s offens­ive against Hamas on the Inter­net and took advant­age of emer­ging online media such as the microb­log­ging Web site Twit­ter to provide real-time updates.
  • BBC and the Gaza appeal | Mark Thompson — After look­ing at all of the cir­cum­stances, and in par­tic­u­lar after seek­ing advice from seni­or lead­ers in BBC Journ­al­ism, we con­cluded that we could not broad­cast a free-stand­ing appeal, no mat­ter how care­fully con­struc­ted, without run­ning the risk of redu­cing pub­lic con­fid­ence in the BBC’s impar­ti­al­ity in its wider cov­er­age of the story. Inev­it­ably an appeal would use pic­tures which are the same or sim­il­ar to those we would be using in our news pro­grammes but would do so with the object­ive of encour­aging pub­lic dona­tions. The danger for the BBC is that this could be inter­preted as tak­ing a polit­ic­al stance on an ongo­ing story. When we have turned down DEC appeals in the past on impar­ti­al­ity grounds it has been because of this risk of giv­ing the pub­lic the impres­sion that the BBC was tak­ing sides in an ongo­ing con­flict.
  • Cath­er­ine Ben­nett: Ulrika lick­ing a fish is not my idea of pub­lic ser­vice TV | The Observ­er — To listen to Duncan is to be none the wiser. So rarely, when ask­ing for money, does he men­tion a single, mer­it­ori­ous pro­gramme that makes the place worth sav­ing that you won­der if he has noticed that his channel’s “con­tent”, or, when the spe­cif­ic mood takes him, “high-qual­ity Brit­ish con­tent”, tends be divided into half-hour, or longer chunks, fea­tur­ing a range of sub­jects and people. Then again, dur­ing his glory days at Uni­lever, it may not have been expec­ted that, as a mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­al, he should per­son­ally eat, or mix, I Can’t Believe It’s Not But­ter, or be able to dis­tin­guish it from that company’s oth­er vari­et­ies of grease.

    Yet it remains a habit of view­ers, and maybe even of con­tent makers, to com­pare pro­grammes, and to make value judg­ments about the superi­or­ity of, say, The Wire, on the US com­mer­cial chan­nel HBO, over any ori­gin­al drama seri­al recently shown on Chan­nel 4. It is even pos­sible, hav­ing noticed this sort of dis­crep­ancy, that mem­bers of the pub­lic will won­der

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